Gambaccini and Jefferies: The Relevance of their Experiences for the Harvey Proctor Case

From the website of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association:

Paul Gambaccini is a popular household name and has been a well- known broadcaster in the UK since 1973. He was arrested on 29th October 2013. Police handed papers to the Crown Prosecution Service on 10th February 2014 but it was not until 10th October 2014 he was told that there was no case against him. His bail was extended seven times during that period. During those 12 months, he forfeited more than £200,000 in both lost earnings and legal costs, until police and prosecutors told him there was no case against him.

…Christopher Jefferies was quietly enjoying his retirement from a distinguished career as a school master in Bristol when police arrested him on New Year’s Eve 2010, for the alleged murder of Jo Yeates. He was finally released from police bail, after 3 months, with his reputation in tatters. His arrest and the public hounding he received from the media eventually led him to being a key witness in the Leveson Inquiry and also the subject of the ITV screenplay “The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies”.

The two men appeared together at an LCCSA event in London last night; some pertinent observations have been published to Twitter by some of those in attendance, particularly @legalhackette. Apparently (these should not be taken as direct quotes), Jefferies found that the police were “out of their depth”, and that “the further up the hierarchy, the stupider they seemed”, while “being helpful to the police seemed to make the police more suspicious.”

Gambaccini concurred: police are “dumber” the further up the police chain, and that while “younger cops are interested in justice… senior ones interested in results”. Gambaccini also said that the names of suspects are regularly leaked by police to the press, while Jefferies believes that in his case the police hoped that journalists would do some of the work for them.

It seems to me that an event bringing together Jefferies and Gambaccini is very timely, given that some dots still need to be joined when when it comes to understanding an ongoing malaise in British public life. The link here is the case of Harvey Proctor: like Gambaccini, accused of alleged historic sexual abuse, and like Jefferies, also facing a police investigation for murder. There are, of course, differences: Proctor has never been arrested, despite months of investigation, and in his case the murder allegation is simply based on the word of a supposed witness – there is no body, and not even a name.

However, although Proctor is being investigated via what’s left of Operation Midland (it has folded in all but name, and is now bundled in with Operation Fairbank) rather than Operation Yewtree, we see the same police eagerness to assume that an allegation is true – and the same police sloth when it comes to actually getting on with resolving the matter.

Further, it seems to me very obvious that the press persecution of Chris Jefferies is being played out again with Proctor, although in this instance the primary culprit is an internet news agency – Exaro News – rather than a tabloid newspaper. As with Jefferies, police interest has provided an excuse for sensationalising and insinuating headlines, and for viciously selective reportage. But although Exaro has at last come under some critical scrutiny (primarily by the BBC and the Daily Mail, in relation to its claims about Leon Brittan), its anti-establishment and “outsider” media pose has so far protected it from the kind of thorough-going criticism that has been levelled against the excesses of tabloid hackery.